Thoughts on Mad Men s7e6, “The Strategy”

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Bob Benson and his shorts need a beard! image courtesy of Vanity Fair

Well, the penultimate episode of this faux-“season” did not disappoint. When I reread my notes for this episode, I found that I scribbled down a disproportionate amount of quotes from the characters alongside my thoughts. This episode has loads of strong character moments, and truth be told, if this happened to be the end of the series I would not have been let down. I was reminded of the greatness that is the s4 episode “The Suitcase”, arguably one of my favourite episodes of the series. “The Strategy” is rife with Hemingway references, Don/Peggy bonding, tantrum Pete cramming bottles into cakes, Bob Benson’s gloriously awkward beard proposal to Joan, Megan’s fondue pot, and above all, the idea of family.

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Vin Diesel won’t stop yapping about FAMILY in these movies. image courtesy of The Grio

As an aside, I adore The Fast and the Furious franchise in all of its magnificent, totally entertaining absurdity. As last night’s Mad Men emphasised the unconventional family you choose in life, I couldn’t stop thinking about Vin Diesel’s incessant parroting of the word “family” in those movies. Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled programming..

Let’s start with the triumphant return of Bob Benson. I love this handsome weirdo, I can’t lie. He flies in from Detroit with some Chevy execs, and they’re apparently still just as out of control as when they shot Kenny’s eye out. Roused by a phone call in the middle of the night, Bob has to go bail out one of his Chevy colleagues. It turns out Bill is a closeted homosexual and gets his ass arrested for an attempted beej on an officer (REALLY), and Bob picks him up. The cab ride proves to be fruitful, as he lets Bob know that GM wants to take Chevy’s advertising team in-house for their doomed shitbox Vega. However, Buick would be approaching Bob with an offer soon.. so there’s that. Splendid. Bill also indicates that his wife is cool with him totes banging dudes on the side, and strongly insinuates that GM prefers the quintessential family man with a wife at home, the kids, that fence, etc. Does this archetype even exist anymore in 1969? More on that later..

This gives Bob an idea. He should ask his BFF Joan to marry him! Of course! He’s beloved by her and her rude mother, he can act as a father figure to Kevin, they could buy a mansion in Detroit, what could go wrong? Bob’s a fun guy with a lot to offer, but Joanie knows she deserves more.

Now. Bob’s engagement ring box is nowhere near as creepy as Ginzo’s nipple gift, but this scene is almost as awkward. Bob proposes (I was screaming), and confused, Queen Joan turns him down. She’s put in a super weird position, but handles it with grace and eloquence as only Joan can. She knows he’s obvi A Gay (which is extremely difficult in the 60s), and wants him to seek happiness and love with his preferred sex, and not just to have a beard and call it a day. How is that living? I mean, we all know that Bob Benson is Don Draper Lite, but Joan doesn’t know that. Her words seem to strike a chord with Bob, because she really cares about him, and a sham marriage wouldn’t do anything positive for either of them.

Joan and Bob have a nice friendship, and she lets him down really easily. Joan knows exactly what she wants, and she won’t be swayed from her own path in life. She’s done enough for the agency in landing Jaguar, and money as a lure is no longer appealing to her at this point. She’s accepting of Bob’s sexuality, and encourages him to seek love instead of an arranged easy way out. Their scene is strangely sweet in a way. He lets her know about Chevy jumping ship, and her concern immediately shifts to her career and future.

Plus, who in the fresh hell wants to live in Detroit?

Megan is in town from LA, as is Pete with Bonnie in tow. It’s funny seeing how being in New York affects them individually. Pete reverts to being a smarmy prat, but who can blame him? He sees his daughter once a year, and she doesn’t know who he is. Trudy is avoiding him, and Pete picks a rude fight once she gets home from a date, and eagerly jams his beer bottle into her shitty cake. It’s no roast chicken being launched out of an apartment window á la s2e12’s brilliant “The Mountain King”, but I’ll take it. It’s almost like being back east affected Pete in a way that he could not have imagined in the least.

During their secret shady conference call with Ted, Pete and Lou say that while they love Peggy’s pitch for Burger Chef, they insist that Don deliver it and instead, with Peggy playing the “mother” role. Hey, glass ceiling! Rude that they’d undermine her like that and go full-on traditional, saying that she’s the emotion and Don’s the authority, when it’s actually the other way around; Peggy rightfully corrects those motherfuckers. Plus, Pete telling Pegs to play the mother is SUPER awkward. Hey Pete, remember your gross lovechild?

Pete’s former life on the east coast is a goddamn mess and it’s getting to him. Something about that city seeps into Pete’s headspace like toxic goo, and he becomes neurotic, defensive, and condescending. Bonnie isn’t safe from it either. Pete’s been hinting here and there that she should play the more traditional role with him, but she gives precisely zero fucks about that housewife life. She’s sharp as a tack and sees right through his shit – “Don’t try to fuck your way out of this”. DAMN, girl. Shots fired. She then splits for LA early; Bonnie ain’t got time for that shit, she’s got houses to sell.

Pete is bound by the gravity of his name in that city, and in LA he’s simply free of it. He can be his own man. LA is the first thing he’s had of his own; he’s building something for himself rather than standing on the shoulders of his parents, throwing his name around, or being forced to rely on Trudy’s family. Pete may be struggling, but he’s finding himself and making his own way. As an east coast transplant in LA myself? I get you, Pete.

The way Pete acts reminds me of a nostalgic feeling I can’t quite place. It’s that feeling you get when you go home at Christmastime, and you’re living in your childhood home for the week or however long you’re there. You’re sleeping in your old room, sometimes your posters and knickknacks are still around, and things are just sort of.. off. At any age, you’re transported back to that fucked out headspace of being a kid/teenager, and you find yourself sometimes doing strange things like you did when you were a kid. Pete is for sure experiencing a lot of this in his former home in Cos Cob, and in his old stomping grounds of Manhattan. Being back east activated his asshole switch just a little bit.

Megan is more of the same, though far less brash than Pete. It’s clear that she’s not comfortable in Don’s part of the country and is working hard to get every last piece of herself moved out to the west coast, fondue pot and all. As Megan is tearing the apartment apart in search of her things, Don finds a newspaper from the day JFK is assassinated in 1963, and pauses for a beat. After all, this is the day that Betty decided to leave him and end their marriage.

Megan plays the good wife and sets up a lovely breakfast on the patio for Don, but it’s almost an illusion, an act. Her big/awesome LA hair is gone – she’s been wearing falls to add length. Instead, she sports her natural elongated bob in New York. The funniest part of this is that she’s so eternally thirsty for Don’s gaze, yet she misses all of the very clear signals that he wants her to move back to New York. He wants her there, and it’s plain to see that she has no interest in moving back east; this is a massive thing that he’s overlooking, as well. They seem to barely communicate – when Megan showed up to surprise him at work, one of the secretaries didn’t even know that Don was married. Awk.

Next week is the midseason finale; the hysterically vague episode description says “Don is troubled by a letter”. That better be divorce papers, girl. Just end it already, that marriage is disintegrating rapidly. Ironically, the likely reason Don won’t move to LA is that he truly wants to dig his heels in and repair his life and relationships in New York from the ground up. Too bad he’s neglecting his marriage as a result.

Let’s get to the real meat of this episode, the Don/Peggy stuff. These two have a rich history and are forever tied together in their creativity, their struggle, and ultimately their misery. They have more in common with each other than they think and I am so, so happy with this episode. I love when Don and Peggy fucking get along like normal-ass people. Though Peggy is at first antagonistic towards Don for thinking of another Burger Chef pitch on the fly and thus starting the chain reaction of her rethinking it, he manages to diffuse her anger with.. kindness and understanding. That’s certainly new. They spend Sunday in the office together, working on Burger Chef and bonding, just like in “The Suitcase”. This episode doesn’t have drunk Duck Phillips barging in trying to take a dump on Roger’s bizarre modern white furniture, though.

Peggy’s original Burger Chef idea is, for lack of a better word, dated. It focuses on that wholesome nuclear family with the mom feeling guilty about feeding her family maaaaad burgers, and how to create an ad that will give her permission to hit up fast food for dinner on the reg and annihilate that guilt (Ameri-caaaaaa). Lou, ever the dinosaur, loves the archaic idea of the mom asking the dad for permission (since that’s what people do) and making Burger Chef an a-OK choice for dinner. Ugh.

Watching Don and Peggy figure this out is magical. I liked the visual switch of roles too – Peggy is in Don’s old office, with his old desk placed in the spot that he hated from that photo shoot in s6. She sits at that desk, while Don sits across from her. Peggy is expecting anything other than kindness and honesty from Don when she asks how he does it – what’s his creative process? How does his brain work? What does he have to worry about? His answers are striking and stark; “That I never did anything, and that I don’t have anyone.” Heartbreaking and so completely relatable. Don being that honest and open with her is a huge step forward.

They talk about how the traditional family is dead; everyone watches TV at dinner now, nobody sits down to a nice meal and has conversations anymore. How can they make this work in 1969? Peggy breaks down because she is simply exhausted. She’s done the work, gone above and beyond, but none of it feels right. She doesn’t know what she’s doing wrong, and then it clicks – change the conversation. What’s a place you can go where there’s no TV? Those people with whom you share a meal, with whom you break bread? Whoever you’re sitting with is family. Every table at Burger Chef is the Family Table.

The traditional 1950s Leave it to Beaver-type family unit is rapidly eroding. SC&P has to switch gears to advertise to this new normal, they have to evolve to keep up with the times. Just look at the characters here – Joan is a divorcée single mother with her own mother living in her apartment and has just been proposed to by her gay friend. Don and Megan are clear across the country from one another. Pete is still married on paper, but has essentially been ejected from his family by Trudy. Peggy is single, just turned 30 (“Shit.. when??”), living alone in her apartment in an up and coming neighbourhood. She’s estranged from her family because of her modern ambition and intelligence, and her mother and sister don’t understand her in the least. The people they’re trying to reach with the original Burger Chef pitch simply don’t exist anymore.

This episode is remarkable. While dancing with Peggy to “My Way” (of course), Don finally realises that he gets to choose his own family. He’d never really been alone if he’d bother to not be a complete narcissistic dick all the time. That scene with them dancing is one of the sweetest scenes in this show’s history; these are two people who truly care for one another, who are connected. Don is genuinely encouraging of Peggy’s talents and plays the supportive role to her very well, in an honest attempt to repair his relationship with her and move forward. He realises that she isn’t his competition, and instead wants to be her friend and colleague. He wants to collaborate and create shit with Peggy already. Move forward. Evolve.

This episode closes with an actually perfect scene – Don, Pete and Peggy all sharing dinner together at Burger Chef. These characters are all orphaned in their own ways, and now they are their own family. Pete tries his damndest to get Don back where he belongs at SC&P, a younger brother sticking up for his big brother. Peggy is at her wit’s end and Don helps her, coaxes brilliance, and talks to her frankly like a father figure. It’s a quick little scene but it’s immensely satisfying to see them enjoying one another’s company. So much Norman Rockwell and Edward Hopper realness.

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A Clean, Well-lighted Place. image courtesy of imgur

Hemingway’s short story “A Clean Well-lighted Place” is about a deaf old man who enjoys staying in a café all the live long day and night for the companionship. It’s a pleasant environment where he can have the coveted illusion of togetherness, so he doesn’t have to face that despair – the ever-present “nada” of life. There is a waiter who understands this man, who gets that many people are affected by that very same problem, countering the other waiter who’s super dismissive and blasé, and wants to go to bed already. The protagonist is presumed to not have anyone in his life, so he makes his own family to a loose extent, just like our characters here. Peggy, Pete and Don have seen and gone through some dark shit, so it’s natural that they seek out friendship and solidarity in one another now.

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One last bit – Meredith clearly gets her “winking eye alcohol suggestion” blatant wink faux talent from Lucille Bluth. Obvi.

images courtesy of Tumblr

OH! I almost forgot. Man, Cutler really has a humongous boner for Harry Crane and that damn computer. In light of the Chevy news, he seems pretty focused on making Harry a partner, an idea which both Joan and Roger reject (Don has his back for obvious reasons). Bringing in some massive computer does not a partner make, but Harry’s always been ahead of the curve when it comes to media. He’s intelligent and knows what he’s doing and has proven himself for at least a junior partnership. I guess he deserves it, but I bet he’ll be a smug dick about it all the way to the market.

And finally.. Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” dropped on June 14th, 1969. That means we’d better see the fucking moon landing next week, Weiner. I also want to see Ginsberg! Glad he was at least mentioned this week, but I definitely miss his crazed self on my screen.. not to mention Queen Betty and Sally. I’d even settle for freaky-ass Glen, I hope he didn’t get drafted; though that peculiar guy might feel right at home in Vietnam.

I will be out of the country when the midseason finale airs, so next week’s thoughts will be delayed until I can watch it! If any of you motherfuckers spoil it for me, I will lose my damn mind. Til next time!

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One thought on “Thoughts on Mad Men s7e6, “The Strategy”

  1. Pingback: Spoiler Alert: Mad Men, Season 7, Episode 6 – “The Strategy” from Hey Todd A!

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